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How to choose a safari

photography/2010/leopard_tree_pg_wx
When you want to go on safari there are so many choices it is difficult to know where to look. The questions pile up: Where to go? When to go? How much to spend? Who to go with? Where to stay? What to take?
 

There are many different styles of Safari to choose from, here are a few golden rules to help you choose.

  • A good guide/spotter. trust us, you will miss more than you see if you don't have a good guide with you. Not only do they see twice as much, they know ten times as much.
  • Dawn and dusk are almost always the best time, be prepared to get up early.
  • Be patient, the longer you are prepared to sit still, the more you will see.
  • Don't forget the people who live there. They often view the animals as pests, but your income will provide a living for them. Don't be ostentatious or patronising.
  • Size of vehicle. The bigger and the more people in a vehicle, the less you will see.
  • Spending £15000 on a safari doesn't guarantee you will see more than someone who spends £500.
  • There’s a lot more to Africa than the big five. Enjoy what you see and don’t go tearing all over to see a lion, thus missing plenty of fantastic but smaller game.
  • Find someone who has been who is not associated with a company - Personal recommendation.

Preparation - Research your destination and the company you are booking with. 

Things to look for:- 

  • Overcrowded parks and areas will deter wildlife.
  • What wildlife do you want and expect to see - Make sure that it exists where (& when) you are going, and that your expectations are realistic. And if you just want to see the 'Big five' go to a zoo.
  • How long does it take to get  there? If you have limited time, you don't want to spend too long getting anywhere - Though more remote parks can often be rewarding.
  • What are local transport conditions like? If it is difficult to get around, your wildlife watching will be restricted.
  • Are vehicles allowed off road? It is often easier to see some of the wildlife your vehicle is permiited to leave the roads. But if it isn't allowed - please don't, there will be a reason.
  • "There are hundreds of species of mammals, thousands of species of birds, and tens of thousands of species of insects as well as stunning scenery and the local culture - So if you are just interested in the big 5 you will miss 99.9% of the action."How many people can stay at the lodge/hotel. The larger the accommodation, the worse the game viewing from the base. In a small camp overlooking a waterhole you may well see some great wildlife from the camp. A large hotel will deter almost all wildlife except a few scavengers. 
  • How small is the company - Whilst small is beautiful, if a company only has 1 vehicle, what happens if it breaks down?
  • When will you be travelling - The great wildebeest herds are not in the Masai Mara all year round. Some parks close in the rainy season, and others are difficult to get around. Some places can be excessively hot atcertain times of year, others wet. 
  • What are their green credentials? Do they put anything into the local community? 

Family safaris

Most kids love animals, and love the idea of a safari - But 5AM starts, hours in a vehicle watching game and hot, dusty roads are not to all childrens liking - Read our article on Family safaris with children 
 

What to take with you - and what to leave behind

Not an exhaustive list, but some of the things you may not think about.

 

  • Field guide. Most safari camps and operators will lend you a guide, but nothing beats having your own. You will want/need it when sorting through your images at home.
  • Sweets for local kids - NO NO NO. Induces a begging culture and rots their teeth, just don't do it. Much better to play them at football/volleyball but if you have to take something, provide pens or books for the local school.
  • Camera. If you don't have one suitable, and you don't have £000 to spend, we suggest an Olympus Sp800UZ. Great zoom, great macro photography, in built memory, easy to use for under £250.
  • Warm clothes. Yes, i know it is Africa, but it gets cold at night in many places, and even more so at 5 in the morning.
  • Phrasebook. Talk to real people, muchy more fun.

Even relatively common (for some people, dull) species can make for wonderful photography. 
Photos courtesy of Paul Goldstein 

 

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Top African Safari Destinations (in no particular order)
There are many different styles of Safari to choose from, here are a few rules to help you choose.
  • A good guide/spotter. trust us, you will miss more than you see if you don't have a good guide with you. Not only do they see twice as much, they know ten times as much.
  • Dawn and dusk are almost always the best time, be prepared to get up early.
  • Be patient, the longer you are prepared to sit still, the more you will see.
  • Don't forget the people who live there. They often view the animals as pests, but your income will provide a living for them. Don't be ostentatious or patronising.
  • Size of vehicle. The bigger and the more people in a vehicle, the less you will see.
  • Spending £5000 on a safari doesn't guarantee you will see more than someone who spends £500.
  • There’s a lot more to Africa than the big five. Enjoy what you see and don’t go tearing all over to see a lion, thus missing plenty of fantastic but smaller game.
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Shearwater Adventures, a tour operator from Zimbabwe, is under fire for capturing wild elephants for use on elephant back safaris. However Shearwater strongly defend their position by pointing out that the drought in Zimbabwe is devastating the elephant herds.
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