Useful Travel Tips

When To Go Africa

Since Africa makes up an extremely large geographic area, it’s difficult to determine seasonality for it as a whole. The continent touches the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Indian Ocean, and has diverse climates that can be tropical, subtropical, arid, or semiarid, depending on region. Its geography is also varied and can include mountains, grassy plateaus, lowlands, and deserts. Africa also straddles the equator with winter and summer seasons differing from north to south. Some countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo are split between the two. In general, the weather remains warm year-round and most regions have separate dry and wet seasons. In deciding when to go, most travelers prefer the dry season, which tends to be less hot and humid but varies by country.

In Addition

Africa is an immense continent with safari opportunities available across thousands of miles, so the best time to travel to Africa depends on your specific destination. Overall, it’s best (but most expensive) to travel in the dry season, which corresponds with the region’s winter. Since safari destinations are in the Southern Hemisphere, their seasons run opposite of North America. Winter is from June to September, and summer is from December to March. You’ll also want to consider the migration patterns of animals, such as the Great Migration through Tanzania and Kenya. Annual patterns of animal migration often vary, so it’s a good idea to research animal migration predictions for the season during which you plan to travel.

Some insider tips: “If you love baby animals and don’t mind hot weather—go to Cape Town, South Africa from December to February. But if you don’t mind the rain—go to Kruger National Park to experience its lush, wet season—balmy but perfect conditions for spotting migratory birds and newborn wildlife. Africa’s winter (June through August) brings just the opposite for both places.” And for those looking to go on a safari on a budget, Its recommended traveling during the shoulder or low season, which for South Africa is in May and October.

If you’re a bird-lover, it will be best to visit during wet-season (December to March), which is when birds make their nests and are more likely to be seen at home.

But if nothing could make you happier than seeing the adorable babies of the animals you’ve traveled so far to see, it’s best to time your trip accordingly. Most babies are born in November, so peak baby-watching season is December to February.

Also, ask about the “green season” for good value when you’re safari planning. This varies by each reason but “for East Africa, it’s the low season and a great time to avoid the crowds and the value of the dollar is higher so overall you can stay longer,”. “Also, not all the animals are migratory so you will see wildlife and spend more time with your guide viewing animals. While there can be rain, it is scattered and that is why you work with a safari outfitter like AMA Safaris to tailor other experiences like high tea or spa treatments.” even waives solo traveler supplements during the low season on certain trips, like this journey to Botswana and Zambia.

Weather Information

Temperatures in the desert can reach well over 100 degrees. Countries in the north, including Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt, among others, tend to have a significant amount of desert. Countries in the more tropical middle typically have mountains and plateau areas with plenty of vegetation and wildlife. These include Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, plus Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana which are further south. These areas have distinct dry and wet seasons with year-round temperatures in the 80s, 70s in the mountains. South Africa remains temperate year-round.

Tips for Planning an African Safari

An African safari is a true adventure—imagine thousands of Wildebeests, zebras and other herbivores migrating across emerald Savannah, flocks of florescent flamingos creating a field of color across a shining lake, and lions feasting on a hard-earned kill.

With 54 different countries more than 11 million square miles between them, Africa is a very large and very diverse place. The types of safaris are endless. And while there’s no right way to go on safari (it all comes down to personal preferences), there is a lot to consider when it comes to picking out your perfect experience. Here’s how to make the right choice.

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 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. 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 African safari tips, from choosing a destination to getting vaccinated, to help you start planning a successful 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 (think private butler or plunge pool) 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 as opposed to all-inclusive package tours—but be prepared to camp in tents or navigate a 4×4 through the African bush. If you’re traveling alone, you’ll probably have to pay a single supplement, as most package pricing is based on double occupancy.

Also don’t be afraid to extend your vacation in Africa to include an island vacation in Zanzibar, a chance to see the thundering Victoria Falls, or discover ancient history in Egypt—many tour operators will offer extension programs to their safari offerings.

Luxury Safaris

A luxury safari offered by a well-known tour operator typically costs thousands (sometimes tens of 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 the wilderness. 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.

National Parks vs. Game Reserves

Whether you’re selecting a tour guide or planning the trip yourself, you’ll need to get more specific about the type of environment you want for your safari. You can’t just vaguely drive into the wild, so it’s important to know the difference between a national park and a private game reserve.

A national park is landmass protected by the government and can be quite large, like South Africa’s Kruger National Park (which is the size of Israel and has six different ecosystems). With a place like this, there’s no way you’ll be able to see it all on a short trip, so you’ll have to do your research to make sure you’ll be visiting the regions of the park that you want to see. The benefit of visiting a landmass of this size is the potential to see large herds of animals in their migration, like the Great Wildebeest Migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

Where to Go In Africa

Each country in Africa is different. We acknowledge that it is impossible to capture the spirit and culture of an entire country in one paragraph, but below is a brief overview of some popular African safari destinations to get you started. The best and most popular areas in Africa for safaris are East and Southern Africa, which offer vast plains and roaming packs of extraordinary wildlife.

East Africa

Kenya:

Kenya’s most abundant wildlife can be found in the Masai Mara National Reserve (a part of the vast Greater Serengeti), where massive herds of animals make an annual migration across the plains. But beyond Masai Mara and the Serengeti lie plenty of other quality parks with abundances of wildlife, including the soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley the likes of Lake Turkana, Lake Bogoria, Lake Nakuru, Lake Elementaita and Lake Naivasha where thousands of colorful flamingos and Pelicans reside. You can also find the “Samburu Special Six” in northern-central Kenya which are Grevy’s zebra, the Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, the long-necked gerenuk, Guenther’s dik-dik, and the beisa oryx. All in all, Kenya is one of the more popular safari destinations in the world.

Tanzania: Just Like Kenya,

Tanzania

The country houses part of the Serengeti National Park—the best park in which to see great herds of wildlife in Africa. Other noteworthy sites include Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.; marine parks off the coast; and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, site of the Ngorongoro Crater and Oldupai Gorge (also known as the Cradle of Mankind). The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest volcanic craters on earth. Over 30,000 animals live in the crater; it has the densest lion population in the world. The Selous for example is the world’s largest Game Reserve while other national parks include: Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Arusha, Mahale, Gombe, Katavi, Rubondo, Mkomazi, Mikumi and Ruaha which are all home to millions of magnificent and easily visible wildlife.

Uganda:

The most famous safari destinations in Uganda are the country’s many primate reserves. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Ngamba Island offer visitors the unforgettable opportunity to get a close look at gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates in their natural habitats. Travelers can also see crocodiles, hippos and exotic birds, and witness the thundering water of Murchison Falls at Murchison Falls National Park on the Nile River.

Rwanda:

For most people a safari in Rwanda is the country’s outstanding Gorilla Trekking as well as for the over 600 bird species. “There’s also the incredible comeback Rwanda has made after the genocide 27 years ago—that in itself, is also a reason to visit,”

Southern Africa

Botswana:

Probably the most expensive destination in Africa due to the government’s push for high-end tourism, Botswana has smaller crowds than most other safari destinations, and is a common locale for luxury packages. See wildlife in game reserves such as Chobe National Park, famous for an abundance of elephants, or Moremi Wildlife Reserve, which offers plenty of the famous “big five.” You can also visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana—look for crocodiles, buffalo, zebras, hippos and many other animals in the delta’s tangled waterways and islands.

Many will say their ultimate safari trip would be to Botswana, “it’s a bit rawer than South Africa or Kenya and Tanzania. Special experiences there include gliding along in a mokoro in the Okavango Delta, or hanging out with meerkats at Jack’s Camp, or staying at the ultra-luxurious Xigera Lodge. Probably the ultimate ‘second safari’ trip for anyone who has already been to Africa!”

Namibia:

Namibia is under the radar for many safari travelers—expect less upscale game parks—and is dotted with incredible natural wonders from the Fish River Canyon to the Namib Desert. You’ll find more than 100 species of mammals in Etosha National Park, including endangered animals like the black rhinoceros, as well as the largest cheetah population on the continent. Desert elephants and zebra roam the arid landscapes of Skeleton Coast National Park in Nambia—the driest place in Africa.

South Africa:

This is a particularly popular destination for safari travelers, so you can expect a well-organized and modern tourist infrastructure — as well as plenty of other travelers in the high season.  South Africa recommended as an ideal family destination since the game drives are shorter and there are malaria-free lodges and game parks. The best-known park is Kruger National Park, which is home to an impressive variety of African animals and is situated in the largest conservation area in the world. Go to a private game lodge if you want a less-traveled safari, but prepare to pay—these pricey digs can run well over $500 per night. Other parks outside of Kruger include Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Dinokeng Game Reserve and the Shamwari Private Game Reserve (located in the Eastern Cape).

Visas and Vaccines

Of course, you’ll need a passport to travel to Africa. But for some other countries, like Kenya or Tanzania, you will need a visa too.

Find a doctor who specializes in travel health care and tell him or her about your African travel plans, or visit a travel clinic. You’ll need to get certain immunizations before heading to Africa. Malaria is common there, but there is no vaccine for the disease. You can protect yourself from malaria by taking an anti-malaria treatment or avoiding mosquitoes; use a mosquito-repellent spray and mosquito nets. You will need a yellow fever vaccination for travel to East and Southern Africa. Other vaccinations you may need include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website for destination-specific health information. In light of the pandemic, you should also ensure that you have the necessary COVID vaccine and/or negative COVID test in accordance with your destination’s policies and ensure to follow all rules and regulations while there. You can look up country specific restrictions here. Keep in mind that many vaccinations take several weeks to provide full protection, so don’t put off your shots until the last minute.

Staying Safe on Safari

You may imagine that hungry crocodiles or packs of ravenous lions are the biggest dangers of a safari. The truth is that humans rarely get attacked by wild animals (just watch out for baboons if you have open food), but they routinely fall victim to safari scams, dehydration, illness, or crime while traveling to Africa.

Safari Scams

When selecting a package, beware of safari scams. Research your prospective safari package provider; ask them for references and if they belong to professional organizations such as the Tour Operator Associations. Also, look for user reviews on sites like TripAdvisor before you book. And keep in mind that if something sounds too good to be true (like a $50-per-night safari in luxury bungalows), it’s likely a scam. Finally, always be aware of your package provider’s cancellation policy (or lack thereof).

Staying Healthy on Safari

Safaris can be physically strenuous and mentally taxing with early morning wake-ups to see active wildlife and unpredictable weather. Travelers to Africa are at risk for dehydration while on safari; your body may not be accustomed to the hot sun and dry air of the bush and you may not even realize that you’re becoming dehydrated. Drink lots of water, protect yourself from the sun, get the proper vaccines, and wear bug spray. For more on staying fit and healthy on your travels, read our guide to health care abroad.

We do recommends a rain jacket, a safari hat with neck cover or flaps, and to wear neutral colors, like khaki, brown, or safari green, to blend in with your surroundings.

Politics and Crime

Political unrest is an unfortunate fact of life for many nations. Be aware of your surroundings when staying in major cities on either end of your safari trip. When traveling to populated areas, familiarize yourself with local customs and take measures to keep your money and valuables safe. And always check State Department advisories before planning a trip to another country. Also, be sure to ask about the company’s emergency assistance program so you’re aware in case of any emergency situations and register with STEP.

Insurance

Since you will be in a remote location and will probably be spending a significant amount of money on a safari, travel insurance is a necessity on an African safari. (Many safari tour operators actually require customers to purchase travel insurance in order to reserve a package.) Be sure to look for emergency medical coverage and financial protection when booking your policy. For more information, read our guide to travel insurance.

Purchasing travel insurance is wise if you want to protect your trip against an array of unforeseen events such as natural disasters, missed flights, personal injury or sickness abroad, tour operators going bankrupt, or even acts of terrorism. But with so many types of travel insurance, lots of fine print, and complicated insider lingo to decipher, it can feel impossible to determine which kind of travel insurance is right for you.

With the right resources, however, it’s possible to pick a trip insurance policy you’ll be confident traveling with and paying for. This ultimate guide to travel insurance covers:

Who Needs Travel Insurance?

There are several different types of travel insurance policies available, ranging from trip cancellation insurance to emergency medical evacuation, all of which vary widely in what their coverage includes and how much it costs. Make sure you know exactly what your policy will and will not cover before you purchase anything, and always buy your insurance from a reputable company (check out our list of travel insurance providers at the end of this article).

Is Travel Insurance a Waste of Money? For some people and certain trips, travel insurance is a virtual necessity; for others, it’s probably not worth the money. The question boils down to a matter of risk, and the best way to assess that risk is by answering four basic questions.

Are you willing to risk the loss of deposits or prepayments if your trip is canceled for any reason?

Are you willing to pay out of pocket if you need to return home early from your trip for any reason?

Are you willing to foot the bill for any out-of-pocket medical expenses, ranging from basic emergency care to emergency medical evacuation home, if you encounter any sickness or injury on your trip?

Do you have a credit card or general insurance that includes bundled travel insurance?

The best way to have a smooth trip? Avoid common travel mistakes. Our expert travel tips will help you save on travel, know where to go (and what to avoid), pack like a pro, breeze through security, and maximize your destination time.

If you answered “no” to any of the first three as well as the final question, you would probably be wise to invest in a travel insurance policy that includes TCI (trip cancellation or interruption) and/or travel health insurance

If you need to buy trip insurance for an upcoming vacation, first look at the insurance policies you already have to see what they will cover. Some health insurance policies cover medical emergencies overseas, while others will not. Many credit cards and homeowner’s policies cover baggage loss. Also, many credit card companies (particularly gold cards) offer their members international medical assistance, and accidental death and dismemberment insurance if the user simply charges their airline tickets on their credit card.

The Basic Types of Travel Insurance

Following is a brief description of the different types of travel insurance options available. Note that every policy is a little bit different, so be sure to read the fine print carefully before purchasing.

Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance

Trip cancellation/interruption insurance covers you if unforeseen events cause you to cancel or interrupt your trip. In general, this coverage is meant for illness, injury, or death suffered by the insured or a member of the insured’s immediate family. Some policies also cover cancellation in the event of illness, injury, or death to the insured’s travel companion. Most policies exclude trip cancellation in the event of war, civil disturbance, or a change in your own financial circumstances. (Lose your job before your trip? If you don’t have job loss protection—not offered by all companies—you could be out of luck.) Some policies also exclude travel to specific destinations that are prone to political unrest.

Many comprehensive travel insurance policies now include coverage if your tour operator defaults; however, it is important to understand exactly what is covered by your policy. If you buy a policy directly from a tour provider, usually it does not cover the default of that provider—so it’s generally a good idea to purchase your policy from an independent company. Some policies only cover tour operator default if the operator ceases operations entirely, which it may not do even if it files for bankruptcy.

When considering trip cancellation insurance, take time to think about how much money you’ll be putting down before your trip. Are you purchasing expensive airline tickets that can’t be refunded? Are you putting down a large nonrefundable deposit on a cruise or tour? If the answer is yes, or if you might cancel for any reason, then buying trip cancellation insurance is a prudent idea.

Medical insurance encompasses several types of coverage. Emergency medical evacuation insurance covers the cost of transportation if a qualified physician determines that you must be evacuated for treatment to the nearest medical facility or to your home country (if it’s warranted), due to injury or sickness. This insurance is highly recommended for cruise passengers and travelers visiting remote areas or developing countries.

For example, if you fall and are injured while trekking in the Mt Kilimanjaro, you might need to be evacuated by private helicopter, then airplane—which can get quite expensive. Emergency medical evacuation back to the United States without insurance can easily cost $35,000 or more. Check to make sure you choose an insurance provider that does not exclude adventure travel from its coverage. If you’re an adventure traveler who has paid $3,000 up front for a white water rapids package deal in a remote area of South America and you won’t receive any refund if you cancel, then you might want to consider both trip cancellation and emergency medical evacuation insurance.

Baggage Loss/Delay

Baggage loss and delay coverage protects you in the event that your luggage is lost, delayed, or stolen. This often includes a cash payment if your bags are delayed for more than 12 hours after you arrive at your destination.

Flight Delay/Cancellation

Flight delay or cancellation insurance (sometimes called “travel delay”) typically pays for accommodations, meals, and new travel arrangements once you’ve been delayed a certain amount of time (often six to 12 hours—read your policy carefully).

Travel Document Protection

Travel document protection can kick in to help you replace a passport or other travel documents when they’re lost or stolen.

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