The ABC’s of Safari planning

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So you’ve waited all your life to take that enchanting Safari but how exactly do you get started ?

 

Everything in life begins with a plan. There is no exception when it comes to preparing for a holiday especially if you want it to be memorable. Planning a trip to the African bush should be fun. Here is some information to get you started.

 

Just how do you get started on planning a safari?

Pathfinder Adventure Safaris leopard pictureSix months to a year is the usual time-frame for guests to first dream about a safari in Africa and then for us to develop a truly special adventure for them. In fact, Safari planning is very much like building a dream house. It’s important not to rush the stage where you envision exactly what you want and it’s always a challenge to balance theromantic with the practical. That’s what Pathfinders Adventure Safaris is here for. The “architecture” of a safari may take many forms before the final plans are complete. Correspondence over a few months forms the foundation of the best safaris; ample time for you to describe your dreams and expectations and opportunity for us to develop a variety of creative options. This is one of our favourite parts of the business in that we are able to get to know our clients and we love the challenge of designing safaris which are tailor-made to your needs.

 

People often ask why East Africa should be the stage for their Safari. East Africa remains unfenced and open to vast migrations of free-ranging wildlife. For example, the Great Migration which takes place each year between Serengeti and the Masai Mara comprises more than 1.5 million wildebeest, zebra and a host of predators (the largest terrestrial migration on the planet). We are also able to claim true equatorial weather and the two tallest mountains on the continent- Kilimanjaro and Kenya. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of East Africa is its cultural diversity as Tanzania alone has more than 120 tribes. What we value most about East Africa is the timeless quality of life, something very rare in this modern world.

 

The Best Safari Seasons

Pathfinder Adventure Safaris Elephant photoYour safari may be shaped on the weather and migration patterns. Eastern Africa straddles the equator and, subsequently, we have almost no characteristic variation between “summer” and “winter” and sunrise and sunset remain roughly the same year-round 6:30am & 6:30pm. When the sun does come down, it does so with astonishing speed. What we do have is two rainy seasons. The Long Rains in Kenya usually fall in Kenya between April and May while the Short Rains fall in November. This varies slightly in Tanzania as both seasons come a bit earlier. Uganda is much wetter all year around (envision the African Queen). The drier it is, the easier it is the see wildlife since the foliage is thinner and the animals must congregate around the rivers and watering holes. That said, some discerning clients prefer the drama and pageantry of the wet seasons and it seldom rains for more than a few hours a day. To get an idea of the weather in Tanzania tryhttp://www.meteo.go.tz:80/. One thing to consider is that many of the East African parks and reserves are at a relatively high altitude (5,000ft above sea level and higher) the hottest days will not be as hot as you may imagine and the evenings will be quite chilly. Summers in many parts of the USA are often hotter and much more humid in comparison to days on Safari. Temperatures in most parks (with the exception of the coast) average in the 70s and lower 80s, with very low humidity.

The majority of the parks in East Africa boast masses of resident wildlife all year long but the highlight of year is the Great Migration which starts in Serengeti in May and enters the Masai Mara in June or July.

This makes your summer and early fall our peak season as people from around the world flock to East Africa to experience the migration. The timing of the migration varies a bit from year to year. This year, the grazing was so good that we had hundreds of thousands of wildebeests munching through the Masai Mara until mid September. The best months for trekking on Kilimanjaro or Mt. Kenya (Minimum age for climber 14 years) are December-January and June – July. One thing to keep in mind is that migration time and the Christmas season are more expensive and more crowded. To book the most exclusive hotels and lodges for these seasons it may be necessary to plan up to a year in advance.

 

Length of Trip and Number of Destinations

We believe that a proper safari is about really understanding and experiencing the African environment and culture. Some companies put so much on the itinerary that the safari comes to resemble a Safari Rally. Our general rule is to select a few places from “wish lists” which we develop with our clients with a aim of spending no fewer than 3-4 days in each location. For vast spectacles such as the Great Migration, 5 or 6 days on location is a true pleasure. Climbs up the mountains should take a minimum of 7 days for Kilimanjaro and 5 for Mt. Kenya. The trip from the US is a long one so we encourage guests to plan for no fewer than 10 days in-country if they are to really get into the swing of things and understand what Africa is about. So, for a 10 day- 14 day trip, for example, 3-4 locations may be the best target. There is an embarrassment of riches to chose from (Kenya alone has over 30 Parks, Reserves and Conservancies).

 

Finding the Wildlife

Pathfinder Adventure Safaris Buffalo photoEveryone has expectations of what animals they would most like to encounter on safari and what landscapes they would most like to experience. Several of the parks and reserves in Kenya and Tanzania boast all of Africa’s “Big Five” (Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Leopard and Buffalo) but there is so much more to see and experience including a vast variety of birds and extraordinary creatures from Ardwolf to Zorilla. A good guide will put together a plan so you can see the wildlife on your wish-list plus a few surprises as well. It’s a good idea to inform your guide of your special interests early in the planning phase of your safari. The best safari companies will make specialist guides available who are experts on anything from insects to Astronomy!

 

The Landscape and the People

When in search of wildlife, people often overlook the big picture. Eastern Africa is a land of immense physical and cultural contrasts. Within a very short distance you can travel from the grassy savannah, through the deserts, across ancient lava flows and up onto alpine glaciers. The Great Rift Valley defines the region and is one of the largest and most dramatic topographical features on the planet. The land is studded with extinct volcanoes, the most famous of which is Kilimanjaro. The coastline of Kenya and Tanzania feature some of the world’s most magical beaches and historic towns. The culture is even more varied than the landscape. East Africa boasts over 150 major tribes ranging from the proud Maasai pastoralist to the rich Swahili culture of the Indian ocean coast. Witnessing the struggle to maintain tribal identity and values in this modern day can be one of most fascinating aspects of your safari.

 

Your guide will make a huge impact on the quality of your safari experience. Although many of East Africa’s Driver-Guides are very skilled, it is always advisable to insist upon a Professional Safari Guide. Specialists we work with most closely include a variety of expertise including ornithology, angling, bush walking & mountain climbing.

 

Getting Around in Style

When travelling in Africa, your mode of transport is very important. Our roads are harsh and transport between the parks by car can be time-consuming and exhausting. Don’t be fooled by the map, distances that appear short can take hours in reality. Even on the main roads, a six hour drive (the average from Nairobi to the Masai Mara) can easily be more exhausting than a 12 hour drive in the USA. We encourage our clients to fly between destinations so that they can spend the most time possible enjoying their stay.

Scheduled service to major parks and reserves often use larger aircraft up to 50 seats but note: none of the light aircraft serving the bush are pressurized. Therefore, it is important to notify us early in the planning process of ear problems or other health issues which may prohibit you from flying in light aircraft up to 10,000ft When exploring the parks and reserves, our aim is to keep you as comfortable and as safe as possible. We use fully inspected and licensed Land Cruiser and minibuses.

All vehicles are linked by radio and/or phone to each other. All our bush vehicles have large roof hatches for the best game viewing and photography. On bush segments we customarily match one professional guide with every 4 clients to provide a personalized approach. Upon request, we will increase the client/guide ratio by using 8-Seat vehicles. This greatly reduces costs per head.

 

What Can You Actually Do on Safari?

Pathfinder Adventure Safaris usually involve a sunrise game drive each day followed by a late breakfast. In the early hours the plains game are still active and the predators may be caught on their way home after a long night’s work. The heat of the day is often spent relaxing in your camp or lodge since much of the wildlife is hidden from view at this time. This offers a great opportunity for you to slip into the African pace of things and enjoy being secluded in a timeless environment. A late afternoon game drive is recommended to take advantage of the cooler air and the more active game. In the late afternoon the big cats awake from their naps and start to prowl. Evenings are usually spent dining and story-telling around the campfire. Outside the reserves it is possible to take a late night drive to see what the predators have stirred up. You may also include at least one sunrise floating over the savannah by balloon – an excellent way to take in the big picture.

 

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University of Nairobi