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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A 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:
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:
How to Create the Perfect Itinerary
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).