Get the Most out of Your African Safari
It's a big trip in terms of time, planning, and money--so before heading into the lion's den, conduct a bit of research
When's the best time to go?
The high season for most countries runs from June through October, when the weather is cool and dry and animals are easier to observe because they congregate near water sources. In low season, animals are more dispersed and tougher to track, but there are advantages. "You have cheaper rates, less people, and the landscape is lush and green," says Harrison.
On self-drive tours, expenses are limited to lodging, rental car, gas, and a park fee ($20 per day at Kruger). If you're splitting costs within a group, costs could be under $100 per person daily. Guided safaris with game drives, meals, and alcohol included range from $200 all the way up to $1,200 a day. You also need to figure in airfare of $1,300 or more, as well as tips for drivers and guides; $10 each for every day on safari should suffice. Many flights to Africa are routed through Europe; check to see if two round trips (one to Europe, one onward to Africa) are cheaper than a single purchase. Consider staying a few days in Amsterdam, London, or whichever city you're connecting through en route; airlines sometimes allow free stopovers. Packages that include airfare and a guided safari, like those featured in our 40 Best section, are often the best value.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A SAFARI
Check ahead of time if your game reserve lodge has laundry facilities (many do). That way, you can cut back on clothes and have more room for binoculars and other gear you'll want out on game drives.
Shades and a hat with a big brim: You'll be out in the sun a lot.
Chapstick, moisturizer, and sunscreen: The plains are dry and dusty, and the sun can be broiling.
Layers: You'll need a sweater and a light coat for chilly evenings, as well as a raincoat or poncho for unpredictable downpours. Cover up as much as possible to avoid insect bites.
Binoculars and a camera: Bring a zoom lens, too. The most exciting action is off in the distance.
$200 cash per person for tips: Have lots of $1 bills handy for porters, waiters, and maids, as well as larger denominations to tip guides at trip's end.
Luggage that's easy to carry: Waterproof backpacks and duffel bags are best. Bags with wheels are great at the airport, but not in the bush.
Earth-tone clothing: Black absorbs heat, while white and other bright colors scare off animals. Don't wear camouflage: Locals may think you're in the military.
Rugged, waterproof shoes: Take ones you don't mind getting dirty, as well as sandals or flip-flops you can switch into back at camp.
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