Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Where Should I go on My First Safari?

Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club
Mt. Kenya Safari Club
Migration Camp, Serengeti, Tanzania
I think that most people that want to go to Africa do so for a few specific reasons.  Either they watch a great deal of the National Geographic channel and want to see things in the "raw" or they want to go for charitable reasons. Or perhaps they are big animal lovers and wish to contribute to the cause or are the antithesis of that and want to go big game hunting.  For me, it has always been wanting to see nature "as is" as well as helping the cause.  And what I mean by that is that today many of the monies that you spend on the safari itself goes to aid animal conservation and/ or the local villages.  For three of our safaris as well as our trip to Egypt, my husband and I have used African Travel Inc.,  (800) 421-8907.  They have consistently been extremely knowledgeable, offer great customer service, and if something goes bump in the night (well let's hope it really is nothing that goes bump in the night), they have quickly resolved the situation.  So, here's my safari history. Read more...
 My first trip was to Kenya in 1981 (my driver/guide on my Tanzanian trip was born in 1990). I was teaching high school at the time and found a program called The American Institute For Foreign Study.  The more people I got to go on the trip with me the less I paid.  So after doing 3 trips to Europe, I decided Africa was were I wanted to go.  Because of my affiliation with TAIFS, all I had to do was pay for airfare.  We spent 12 days in Kenya and saw just about all you needed to see and stayed at some very nice properties such as the Mount Kenya Safari Club and Treetops.  I came back with the feeling that even though we had seen lions and cheetahs and elephants etc the safari experience in Kenya was not an intimate one.  If we saw a cheetah, well, so did about another 10 vehicles.  Hard to get a picture of the animal with all of those trucks around.  Then in 2001 my husband and I went to Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.  In 2011 we went to Namibia and Zambia and I just returned from 9 days in Tanzania.  So I've covered just about all of Eastern and Southern Africa.

Traveling from the US, no matter the destination you choose in Africa, it's a long haul of a trip.  On my first trip I flew over Paris, on my three subsequent trips I took the Delta direct flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa and spent the night  Not a bad idea really.  Kind of gets you acclimated. Let me break this down into three parts: the accommodations, the animals/game drives and topography.  Accommodations: Some of the best accommodations in the world are located in Africa.  If you read Travel and Leisure or Conde Nast Traveler, lodges in Africa are always listed as some of the best.  You typically have three cost choices, luxury, deluxe and budget.  Don't go below deluxe.  Trust me.  Depending on the country a budget accommodation can be a cinder blocks with no fans.  Most of the luxury/deluxe accommodations are tented with mahogany floors, king beds,  clawed tubs and fans or air conditioning (most are not air conditioned).  My husband and I as well as when I went with my sister, we went luxury.   I've never encountered bad service. Also, particularly in Botswana, you will be flown from camp to camp.  That is a $ adder.  Pick a price point and discuss the accommodations and how you will travel from camp to camp with your Africa travel expert.  Next up game viewing and game drives.  There are huge differences between game viewing in the Serengeti as opposed to Botswana or Zambia. During peak season in the Ngorogoro Crater, there can be as many as 450 vehicles in the park at one time.   The game viewing in Botswana as well as in Zimbabwe and Zambia is a far more intimate experience.  When in Botswana and Zambia we would, at times, be the only Land Rover out and about and might see another vehicle only
Serengeti Plains
The Namib desert Namibia
Water safaris in the Okavango Delta
because the drivers do radio each other if they've seen something.  So there is little or no jockeying around for position to take a picture.  Sure we'd see all there was to see as far as leopard, lions, zebra, wildebeest, elephants,  giraffe's etc.   BUT, and it's a big BUT, in Tanzania and depending on the time you go, you can see massive herds of wildebeest, zebra, elephants, large prides of lions.  The other thing is the length of time out on a game run.  When we were in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the game drives were 3-4 hours in the morning and then broken up by a mid-day siesta, then out for a 3-4 hour game drive and sun downer.  In Tanzania we were out 8-10 hours.  Those are long days on very bad dirt roads with lots of pot holes.  The park system does a great job with potty stops and picnic areas.  You don't have potty stops with a bathroom in Botswana.  Behind a big ant hill will do, thank you very much.  And finally, topography. You couldn't ask for more diverse topography than Namibia, Botswana and Tanzania.  You can tell by the pictures what each safari has to offer topography wise.  Botswana did have the greatest diversity.  We went from a dry plain, then being on the river Kwai, to actually being in the Delta itself with canoe safaris. The decision you have to make is which experience do you want?   The vast plains of the Serengeti with the teaming wild life or would a more intimate experience with shorter game drives be better for you?
The plains of the Serengeti

A couple of other things to consider.  When traveling to Africa, you do need to protect yourself from malaria and other possible ailments.  You can go to your local county health department to get some of your shots, some grocery stores now offer vaccinations but you still need a prescription, or you can go to a travel health clinic which can prove to be very expensive and harrowing.  Harrowing because even though they recommend certain shots they tell you the shots can cause kidney failure, liver failure, facial deformity, flatulence,  growing extra toes...you get the picture.  You will need malaria pills, you most likely will need a yellow fever shot (check about this if you are over 60), and the others are optional...Hep A, Hep B, tetanus etc.

And last but not least...Are you susceptible to mosquito bites?  Then concern yourself, really concern yourself with traveling to Tanzania.  During the heat of the day and when we were traveling through acacia tree groves (which are everywhere), the TSETSE fly comes out to drink your blood!  No da*n joke.  They like the color black so our poor drivers were eaten alive by these things. Me...I heard each and every one of them saying to me, "I want to suck your blood." They bite through your clothing and even your tennis shoes.  I used 99% Deet and it still didn't keep them at bay.   I had over 45 bites that after three weeks are still there but, thank God, no longer itching.  My sister? O...N...E...B...I...T...E!  

Bottom line...what is your bottom  line?  The prices for Africa keep going up every year.  Yes, they say their lead in price is $6000 without international airfare but that is for off season.  There's a reason for that.  Less viewing of the animals.  The trip my sister and I took this year will be $4000 more PER PERSON next year.  So, if you're going, go quickly.

No comments:

Post a Comment