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Planning an African Safari

elephant africa african safariAn African safari is a true adventure -- a journey crafted in the tradition of wealthy 13th-century traders who first hunted the plains of Africa for wild game trophies to hang on their walls. Today, travelers hunt for photo opportunities instead of occasions to kill, but they encounter the same scenes that have fascinated explorers throughout history: thousands of zebras migrating across emerald grasslands, flocks of florescent flamingos creating a field of color across a shining soda lake, lions feasting on a hard-earned kill.

Many travelers trek to Africa in search of the "big five": buffalo, lions, leopards, elephants and rhinoceroses. The chance to get close to these animals in their natural habitats is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but your trip to the Africa is anything but a trip to the zoo. Safaris can be physically taxing and strenuous, and you may not see all the animals you expected. Since most safari destinations are in developing sub-Saharan nations, travelers must take certain safety and health precautions. If you're planning a safari (or just dreaming about it), be as prepared as possible. Get some good guidebooks, talk to friends who've been to Africa and research, research, research. We've outlined some important safari basics, from choosing a destination to getting vaccinated, to help you start planning a successful African adventure.

Types of Safaris
For the most part, safaris are a costly kind of vacation. But as with any other type of travel, you can tailor your safari to suit your personal budget. The length of your safari will affect its cost -- although you may want to cut your trip short to save cash, the longer you stay, the less you will probably pay on a per-night basis. If you're looking for luxury digs on your safari (or even just hot water and a comfy bed), prepare to pay more. Budget-minded adventurers should seek self-drive or overland safaris (see below) as opposed to all-inclusive package tours -- but be prepared to camp in tents or navigate a 4x4 through the African bush. If you're traveling alone, you will probably have to pay a single supplement, as most package pricing is based on double occupancy.

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Luxury Safaris
luxury safari lodge africaA luxury safari offered by a well-known tour operator typically costs thousands of dollars per person, per week, with all-inclusive prices covering tours, food, drinks and excursions. Fully catered luxury packages offer travelers the comforts of home in wild Africa. Accommodations range from air-conditioned suites to stylish tents (you'll feel almost like you're camping -- aside from the hot running water, rich linens and first-rate service). Ultra-luxurious safari lodges can cost more than $1,000 a night.

Sample Tour Operators:
  • Orient-Express offers luxury safaris packages in Botswana. Orient-Express offers three safari camps, each with its own distinct character: Khwai River Lodge, Eagle Island Camp and Savute Elephant Camp.

  • Book a tour with Abercrombie and Kent if you're looking for a wider range of destinations, including Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and more. This company has been operating upscale African safari tours since 1962.

    Overland or Mobile Safaris
    Overland (also known as mobile) safaris are generally the cheapest type of organized tour safari. An overland safari will involve campsite accommodations, and you will most likely travel in a group with other travelers. Overland safaris are usually participatory -- you may be expected to pitch in with chores such as cooking meals or setting up camp.

    Sample Tour Operators:
  • Intrepid Travel sells a number of participatory camping safaris, including the Kenya Wildlife Safari with trips to tiny Tanzanian villages, the Hwange National Park, Zanzibar and more. Southern Africa tours include game drives in Botswana, sliding down sand dunes in Namibia and a visit to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.

  • Acacia Africa is a reputable overland safari provider that offers a variety of affordable packages for different budgets and travel styles.

    How to Create the Perfect Itinerary

    Self-Drive
    Pick a public game park, rent a car and tour the African bush on your own! Since self-drive safaris are only possible in public parks that usually have paved roads and signs, you need not worry about getting lost in the plains of Africa or becoming food for a hungry lion. For the cheapest possible safari, self-drive is your best bet. You can pay for a la carte for meals, tours and accommodations, enabling you to opt for the most inexpensive lodging you can find or tour the bush on your own instead of hiring a guide.

    One potential drawback of a self-drive safari is that without a knowledgeable local guide, you may miss some wildlife. To remedy this problem, read guidebooks on spotting wildlife in your destination, bring a field guide or stop and ask other travelers where they've seen the best game (this is easier to do in the popular public parks).

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