The term "safari" often conjures up visions of faded, sepia-toned scenes from the late 1800s and early 1900s. You've seen them: In colonial Africa, a man in khakis and a pith hat triumphantly poses next to a dead animal while brandishing a weapon. However, as you might expect, Africa has changed over the past century, much like most other locations, and the venerable institution of the safari has altered along with it. Perhaps there are still macho hunters out there who yearn to do the same kind of expedition into the wilderness as Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway did and return with taxidermy trophies for their dens.
The emphasis of the modern safari sector has, however, largely switched from destructive hunting to respectful observation. Today's safari goer is more likely to have a camera than a gun, and they'll enjoy seeing some of the most beautiful and unusual animals instead of trying to kill them. Safari travel offers visitors from other areas of the world a chance to learn about the value of protecting Africa's declining natural environments and endangered animals, as well as a significant source of job and cash for African nations.
The travel industry has recently broadened the definition of "safari" to include treks and expeditions that are not always focused on looking for animals. For instance, there are camel safaris in Egypt, desert safaris in Australia, and adventure safaris in Alaska. However, the most well-known type of safari—the kind that most people still consider to be the pinnacle of adventure—continues to incorporate exotic creatures and time spent in Africa's distinctive environment. We'll concentrate on that traditional African adventure in this piece.
Where are they now and how did they start?
The History of the African Safari
Sir Richard Burton, an English linguist, and adventurer coined the word "safari" in the 19th century (not to be confused with the more famous 20th-century movie star). Burton borrowed the phrase from the African language of Swahili. Its root is the earlier Arabic term "safari," which denotes "a journey or expedition."
In the middle of the 1800s, British hunters like Cornwallis Harris and Charles Baldwin ventured into sub-Saharan Africa in quest of game. Their descriptions of incredible exploits inspired others to plan excursions that followed in their footsteps. German hunter, naturalist, and photographer Carl Georg Schillings was a well-known late 1800s safari enthusiast who captured some of the earliest breathtaking images of lions, elephants, and rhinos in their natural habitat. Beginning in the early 1900s, enterprising British and European immigrants in Africa—known as "white hunters"—began planning and promoting safaris for wealthy visitors who desired to take home some of the continent's magnificent game.
On behalf of former U.S. officials, one of the most well-known safaris was put on. Between April and June of 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit were photographed. The two Americans arrived in Mombasa, Kenya, and traveled through what was then British East Africa and into the Belgian Congo with the help of a British "white hunter" and 250 African porters and guides. They then made a northeastern U-turn and arrived at Khartoum, Sudan. The Roosevelts shot almost 500 animals on their travels, including 20 rhinos, 17 elephants, and 11 elephants. With its frantic, vivid stories of adventures, the former president's 1910 book "African Game Trials" added to the allure of safaris.
What types of African safaris are available today?
A lot has changed since the time of Teddy Roosevelt. Today's environmentally conscious travelers are frequently thrilled just to catch a glimpse of a rhino in the wild and have no desire to bring back heads or horns to hang over a fireplace. This is because Africa's exotic wildlife is becoming more and more endangered due to habitat loss, poaching, and climate change. Additionally, African nations are striving harder than ever to establish ecotourism and wildlife viewing as viable industries that provide much-needed cash and jobs in the region.
For instance, Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa, a group that advocates ethical travel, has accredited 14 locally owned and operated safari companies in South Africa, where millions of tourists come each year in quest of the "big five" species — elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, and leopard. Additionally, local safari business owners are rapidly creating more comfortable bush camps and opulent safari hotels where wildlife viewers may unwind and eat in comfort after a day of adventure, replacing the more basic lodgings they originally provided.
The modern safaris are wonderful family getaways (provided that the kids are at least 8 or 9 years old, the minimum age allowed by most companies). There are many different types of lodging options, ranging from the opulent hotels found in some national parks and wildlife preserves to the makeshift camps that some tour operators erect in the wild for adventurous safari visitors. Browse websites like My Safari Link, a freshly developed portal and social networking site for numerous African safari operators, to learn more about your possibilities.
Here's a taste of three types of safari lodging:
- Permanent camp -- On these safaris, you're based in a permanent tented camp or lodge from which you experience game walks, drives, and even hot air balloon safaris during the day (especially in the morning and late afternoon, when the animals are most active). Most of the national parks have ideally-situated lodges and/or permanent tent "hotels," where visitors can eat, sleep and relax with all the comforts of home and even some gourmet meals. This type of safari is considerably more expensive than most camping safaris.
- Mobile permanent camp -- In this case, you visit several different camps and lodges, traveling from one location to the next via Land Rover, six- to eight-seater minibusses with roof hatches, open-sided trucks, or by air in light aircraft.
- Mobile -- On a mobile camping safari, you stay in a temporary camp each night. These camping safaris often cater to budget travelers who don't mind roughing it a bit (no flush toilets or running water) in exchange for the chance that a hippo or elephant will wander through camp at night. The quality of accommodations runs the gamut from basic to luxurious, with luxurious including 30-foot tents, showers, bathrooms, and furniture.
How much does a safari cost? How do I choose one?
There are so many alternative possibilities for your safari that it's challenging to establish a general spending guideline. Instead, you should first conduct some study to decide what you'd like to see in Africa the most, then compare that to your travel budget. Don't forget to take into account your age, degree of fitness, and comfort requirements. The backpacker-style lodgings you'll find at certain low-cost camps in the jungle will come as a significant shock if you're used to staying in upscale hotels on vacations, for instance.
Julian Harrison, a travel writer for Fodor's, suggests planning your vacation for six to nine months, though a year in advance is not out of the question. Harrison also advises tourists to exercise caution while using self-serve Internet booking in Africa due to the lack of a sophisticated travel infrastructure there. Online reservations could put you in the path of some logistical calamities. Additionally, you should budget for gratuities and any necessary vaccines to keep you healthy. You would likely be well to choose a travel agent with knowledge of African adventure tourism.
Harrison claims that there are price points to fit practically any budget. At the top end, a tourist looking for luxury can reserve lodging at a posh travel lodge for $1,500 per night. On the other hand, if visitors are comfortable pitching a tent with the group in the wild, they can get away with spending around that amount for a whole eight-day budget safari. Air travel is one significant cost to take into account. For flights from New York City to many South African cities, South African Airways, a significant airline, quoted fares of roughly $1,000 each way at the time of publication. These costs are, of course, subject to modification. Your agent might be able to locate a more affordable plan for you.
When should I go?
In general, the dry season in Africa, which in eastern and southern Africa lasts from late June to October, makes travel simpler. Animals tend to gather near rivers and water holes at that time, making it simpler to notice them. Additionally, the vegetation is less dense, giving you a better view of them. However, the dry season also happens to be the time of year when lodges and camps are most busy, and costs are frequently at their highest.
However, the best time to go on a safari truly depends on the parks and reserves you want to visit, the animals you hope to see, and the local transportation options you're interested in. For instance, the rainy season is the ideal time to visit numerous locations if you are particularly interested in bird watching. Huge herds of hoofed animals flock to Tanzania's Serengeti National Park during the rainy season in quest of water. Therefore, the rainy season is the perfect time to visit that particular region to observe the biggest variety of wildlife, including the renowned lions and other predators of the park.
However, you should be aware that planning your trip can be challenging if your goal is to witness a particular event, such as the Serengeti's annual wildebeest migration. Based on climatic factors, those events change in timing from year to year and are challenging to predict with precision in advance. Therefore, it's a good idea to have a backup plan as well.
What do I take on a safari?
You likely already know that you'll need a passport and visa for your trip, as well as vaccinations for preventative purposes, comfortable khaki-colored clothing, and a sturdy, luggable duffle bag for transporting your belongings. But here are some more things you'll need for practically every kind of safari:
- Camera equipment -- Ideally, take both a digital SLR with interchangeable lenses to capture images of wildlife and the environment and a cheap point-and-shoot camera that you can pull from your pocket to capture the human side of the trip. For shooting animals, you want to have at least a 300mm long lens, and for birds, a minimum of 400mm is essential. Also be sure to take along spare batteries and multiple SD flash cards, since, in many parts of Africa, you may have trouble getting an Internet connection to upload your photos to the cloud after you run out of space.
- Mobile phone -- Even rural areas of Africa are rapidly becoming wired, and 3G access is becoming available as well. Nevertheless, you should do some research to find out what degree of connectivity is available in the areas you plan to visit. If you really can't afford to be disconnected, you can rent a satellite phone these days for as little as $8 a day, plus costs of roughly $1.10 to $1.75 per minute. But be forewarned that if you use one to connect to the Internet, the data speeds are far slower than what you're accustomed to.
- Bottled water and purification tablets -- Waterborne diseases remain rampant in Africa, so be careful what you drink or use to brush your teeth. Keep a bottle with you at all times, and carry purification tablets in case you run out of bottled water.
- Eyeglasses -- You may be a habitual contact lens wearer, but in dusty, hygiene-challenged rural Africa, you should revert to glasses with frames. Be sure to pick ones with scratch-resistant lenses.
- Skin protection -- A hat with a brim, sunglasses, and sunblock are essential if you're spending long hours in the unforgiving African sunshine. Chapstick or lip balm is a good idea, too. Mosquito repellant is essential.
- Adapters for charging electronic devices -- Electrical service in Africa is at a higher voltage rate than in the United States, so you'll need the right adapter plug to charge your devices. You can buy a kit with the types needed for various African countries