From the Swahili, safari means journey and it is quite a journey since the moment you start planning to the moment you get to see the most beautiful animals in their natural habitat. As you probably noted from my previous articles, I loved the safari in Kenya and truly believe that I will come back. Getting to see the wildest animals in a rush of adrenaline of most of the game drives was out of this world!
STEP 1: Is a safari for me?
If you are thinking to go on a safari you should think in first place if this is an activity you would like. Generally you must love the animals because the days go around that. A safari is nothing like going to the zoo, sometimes you see the animals, sometimes you don’t.
The wildlife is unpredictable: you can see them matting, feeding and if you get shocked with a lion eating a zebra, think that you are the one that went there to see them in their natural habitat and they are just doing what it’s in their nature.
Also, keep in mind that the days are long, sometimes waking up at 04:00 am and going to sleep later in the night, with constant drives around bumpy “roads” and dust.
STEP 2: Research when to go
You will find most advice to go during the dry season, which corresponds to December to March, the region’s summer. But nothing stops you from going during the winter time, which goes from June to September.
From what I have asked to the locals it’s pretty much dry for most year, but obviously, it’s hotter during the summer time.
Another thing you may consider important for you its things like the Great Migration between July and October where millions of animals go from Serengeti, Tanzania to Maasai Mara, Kenya.
STEP 3: What type of safari – Budget or Luxury?
Is up to you what you want to do to and how much you want to spend, but unless you actually want to spend some time in the camp/lodge you really don’t need much. From a 6 day safari I can tell you that I spend only one afternoon in camp and that was the last day.
- Budget: You can either choose to do camping, where you will have a movable tent with sleeping beds and cook for yourself or you can choose to be in a fixed tent with a bed on a lodge where meals will be cooked for you. Either, expect to have no internet, only some hours with electricity and probably some cold showers. The game drives will be in a group.
- Luxury: You can expect pretty much everything from this. From stylish tents, spa treatments, gourmet meals, free laundry, air-conditioned and 24hours internet. Some of this super luxury lodges can reach 1000$ per night or more! Normally the game drives are private with just the guide and you in the car or even just getting a plane from park to park.
STEP 4: Define your budget
If you are thinking that a safari will be too expensive, like I did before, forget that! This experience can be for everyone’s budget, you just have to define how much you can spend and then find something that fits the budget.
Usually when you book a safari, everything will be included, such as meals, game drives, transportation from place to place, accommodation and sometimes extra snacks.
For my 6 day safari going to 3 different parks I have paid 1050 US$ and I only spend extra money to visit the Maasai Mara village (10US$) plus some snacks (20US$) (you can buy these in advance to save some money).
STEP 5: Choose a tour company
This is probably the most important step of all and will involve some hours of research.
- Search tools
On a quick search on Google or TripAdvisor you will see dozens of companies. But, if you have decided your type of safari and a budget you should be able to eliminate some of them.
At the same time you search for tour companies, do a little bit of research about the parks and reserves that these companies are offering. Two important things you should know:
- A national park is used for conservation purposes and owned by the state. In these parks you are not allowed to get off the road and the vehicle must be on the defined road at all times.
- A game reserve it’s a place where the ecosystems are protected. In these reserves you are allowed to drive off road to get closer to the animals which sometimes can make the all experience very different than just see the animals on a distance.
- Compare costs
Select at least 10 companies that suit your budget and match with what you want to see, then email them. For example I email them saying: ‘I want to do a safari, 6 or 7 days and go to Maasai Mara and Amboseli’ and also gave details about accommodation saying that I wanted at least in one of the parks stay in a basic tent.
- Read the reviews
After selecting three of them I went to read the reviews and selected Flash Mctours. They were flexible on what we wanted and Peter from the company sort of created an itinerary with our wishes. Some people prefer to choose specific guides for their safari but we just went on the overall reviews of the company and did not regret our choice.
About our guides: Lawrence was our guide in Maasai Mara and Lake Nakuru and he had great knowledge about the animals and how to spot them. He would see a tree and know that a leopard would be sleeping there. He was also very quick to drive to new spots and would share with other drivers by radio the location of where we saw the animals, which I thought it was very kind. Edward was our second guide and he also had very good knowledge about the animals. He was also very willing to go with our wishes to focus on certain animals. Without their knowledge I probably hadn’t learn half about the animals and their routines and that is also part of the safari experience.
- Read about the accommodations
When deciding for which company to go, please go and research about the proposed accommodation. Keep in mind that sometimes what is too cheap may be very disappointing; on checking some of the accommodation’s suggested by one of the companies we found by the reviews that they were very poor with low hygiene standards. I stayed in Lenchada Tourist Camp – Maasai Mara, a very basic tented camp and in Kibo Safari Camp a bit more resort look alike but still with fixed tents and they were all good experiences.
STEP 6: Staying healthy
Visit the Travel clinic in your area, they normally advice you on what you should do, depending on the area you are travelling to. When it comes to take vaccines, keep in mind that many take several weeks to provide full protection, so don’t make this last minute.
- Vaccines: Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A
- Optional Vaccines: Tetanus and Typhoid
- Optional: Anti-malaria tablets
- Mosquito repellent with IRF 4 and 50% DEET
STEP 7: Visas
- Apply for a visa at least one-two months before you go at http://evisa.go.ke/evisa.html
- The single visa to entry in Kenya costs 50$.
- If you are planning to continue your travels you can apply for the East African Visa, which allows you to entry in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda with one single payment of 100$.
STEP 8: Packing for a safari
Packing for a safari is probably the easiest ever! Just use simple clothes and overall you don’t need too much, even things like make-up or accessories you can just take the most basic.
STEP 9: Basic vocabulary before you go
- Game: the wild animals you will see on the safari.
- Game Drive: activity of driving in a vehicle looking for the animals
- Walking safari: a safari on foot where you will see more the vegetation’s and small animals. Usually the guide will decide if it’s safe and where to do this.
- The Big 5: A term used for the main 5 predators – Lion, Buffalo, Leopard, Elephant and Rhino.
- Greetings in Swahili
Hello – Jambo
Welcome – Karibu
Goodbye – Kwaheri
My name is – Jina langu
- Animals names in Swahili
Lion – Simba
Rhino – Vifaru
Hippo – Kiboko
Leopard – Chui
Cheetah – Duma
Giraffe – Twiga
Hyena – Fisi
Buffalo – Nyati
Elephant – Tembo