Africa is becoming an increasingly popular destination for travellers, as people find it easier to tick off that “Safari” bucket-list item. Flights are getting cheaper, tour operators are plentiful and travel agents in countries far from the African continent are becoming well-versed in the myriad options available under the Safari concept. But Africa can also be a daunting destination. The media is plagued with stories of civil strife, political tension and personal security issues. This article offers three smart tips for those wanting to embark on their first safari.
- Personal Security
Listening to foreign news about Kenya, one would think the whole country was at war. Reading government travel warnings about South Africa gives a similar impression. While it is prudent to heed travel warnings and other information about the safety of your destination, it is also advisable to connect with people living there to find out how they are experiencing daily life. In general, people want to get on with their lives and the majority of citizens are not throwing grenades or robbing tourists. As with anywhere (including your home town!) you should keep your wits about you, but there is no reason to cancel your safari because the media has hyped up a situation.
- Know what you have booked
Tour operators are a dime a dozen in many countries of Africa as tourism becomes increasingly lucrative. In Kenya, tourism accounts for approximately 13% of GDP, making it the largest industry of the country. So it is important that you thoroughly research your selected tour operator and ensure they are the real deal. There are plenty of review sites on the internet, and a tour operator should be prepared to connect you with previous guests (if those guests give permission of course!) so you can check them out. Ask plenty of questions about the mode of transport, the standard of accommodation, what activities are included in the price, which meals are included, whether you will be picked up at the airport, etc. If you are clear on what to expect then the chance of nasty surprises spoiling your holiday will be minimised. And don’t take anything for granted – if you assume something, then it is almost guaranteed that your assumption will be wrong. Africa behaves differently to other places in the world so it is vital to ensure everything is explicit.
- Interact with locals
There are a lot of “flying packages” where you fly into the capital city, transfer immediately to a charter plane to fly to a game reserve, spend a few days looking at wildlife and then fly back to the capital and home. You might have a chat with your safari driver or the staff at your lodge, but that would be the only chance you have to interact with a local. While this suits many people, my opinion is that there is no point in travelling if you don’t meet the people and see the culture. The safari experience is enriched when you take some time to visit communities and talk to people about their lives. There are a lot of kitsch tourist villages to visit, but there are opportunities to engage with people in a meaningful way, if you use a tour operator committed to sustainable and responsible tourism.
Africa is the ultimate safari destination with opportunities for the most sublime wildlife encounters and eye-opening cultural encounters. Sadly, much of the wildlife is in grave danger from poaching and shrinking habitat. Tourism provides an income stream that encourages the protection of the wildlife which is crucial right now. If a safari is on your bucket list, start your research, find a reputable tour operator and come to Africa! You won’t ever regret it…. and perhaps it will just be the beginning of a love affair with this amazing continent.